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The Survivor

Peter Saunders tells how the scars last for a lifetime.

?I remember it very clearly the first time it happened. It was sheer terror.?

The voice is adult and soft, yet animated with childhood fear.

?Literally one night I was sleeping at his house, in a separate room. After I had gone to sleep, he came into the room, woke me up. It was dark, I didn?t know what was going on, but I remember even now what he was saying to me - words which then I didn?t even understand.

?It was sheer terror, sheer pain, there was no enjoyment?

He laughs bitterly. ?I just know what he was doing was very painful and I wanted him to stop. I was frozen in terror. I don?t remember speaking a word. The next day that was it, it was back to normal.?

?I was frozen in terror. I don't remember speaking a word? ? PETER SAUNDERS

The face is still young, even at 40. But the savage wounds inflicted on an eight-year-old boy by a man outside his immediate family are very fresh, even after all these years. And they have torn a family apart.

?I never blanked it out, but I had pushed it to one side. Now I was feeling this tremendous anger towards this person. I felt so angry, so upset, that I could never tell my dad what was happening when I was a kid.?

The youngest of five children, Peter Saunders was born into a devout Catholic family. Church and grammar schooling were the norm.

?Discussions of sex and swearing never took place in our household - these were taboo subjects. Sex wasn?t discussed and I certainly didn?t know anything about it or my body - it was a complete unknown.

?Dad was an accountant, church-going; brothers went to grammar school; sister?s a teacher. On the surface, we were a totally normal family. Underneath it, we were a totally screwed up, dysfunctional family,? he laughs bitterly again.

The cause for this bitterness is the attention he received from just one man: one man who sexually and emotionally abused him; damaged him for years afterwards; and consigned him to alcohol abuse, wrecked relationships and an inability to identify and deal with emotional pain.

This man was never brought to justice for his crimes and probably has little comprehension of the damage he has caused other peoples? lives. ?That person influenced me, got under my skin and I suppose became a role model in place of my father,? says Peter.

?Dad was a lot older and did his best, but I was very much an afterthought. I was like an only child, which gives you a certain vulnerability.?

The man abused Saunders countless times between the ages of eight and 13 - and it only stopped when Saunders was strong enough to push him away.

Often he would leave pocket money, a bribe - and alcohol, to break down his defences.

?He usually abused me when he?d been drinking but he didn?t use intimidation or violence. He said ?I love you. This is why I am doing this?...while I lay there praying it would stop.?

He stops for a moment and has to draw a deep breath. ?From that first night, I?d lie in bed anxiously waiting to hear the door open. If it did, I knew it was going to happen again.?

How did he feel? ?I had lots of feelings at the time; mostly confusion, of not understanding what the hell was going on.

?Because I never doubted this person loved me, because it was someone I looked up to and they gave me a lot of attention and time, which looking back now was all part of the ?grooming? process - you make friends with somebody, you show them affection, buy them toys, which happened.

?They perhaps develop relationships with other people in your family and they become a trusted person to you.?

The long term effects were legion: ?I led a life with a cloud over my head, constantly keeping depression at bay without knowing why. I never felt confident, good about myself. I always felt I had this unhealthy interest in porn. I drank heavily, cycles of drinking.

?You grow up not trusting anybody. I had mistrust and jealously about my wife?s past, if she looked at somebody else, and feeling threatened. I just didn?t feel good about myself and never perceived any good happened to me. Even my marriage eventually fell apart and I can put it back to not dealing with my problems. It?s all linked.?

He became obsessed with cleanliness and drinking became a major problem: ?It was always on my own, which is bad. I abused alcohol. I try and avoid it now. Sadly I still do it from time to time.?

His abuser also told him that if he got women drunk, he could have sex with them. ?I grew up with this idea that alcohol and sex were related.?

Everything was distorted in relationships. He didn?t understand or feel secure within them. ?Being sexualised as a child gave me an unhealthy interest in anything sexual. I was brought up to look at women as purely sex objects. In my head, women were basically there for screwing. That might have only changed 10 years ago, when we had children. It was all in here,? he says pointing to his head.

After confronting his abuse, Saunders sought counselling and helped found the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC), which aims to help adult survivors come to terms with their experiences. When he confronted his abuse, he had no-one to turn to and called Childline, before being put in touch with the NSPCC.

Founding NAPAC has been a positive step which has given the former lecturer purpose in life, and enabled him to meet his new partner.

And he doesn?t hate his abuser now; he feels sorry for him: ?I would love for the guy who molested me to come and say sorry and admit it all. Because I would say ?yeah, what you did was unforgivable, but I forgive you?. I would also tell him to get help. People who do that sort of thing need help. We can?t just chop off their balls - there wouldn?t be many people left on the streets. They need help before they?re let back into society. They can?t enjoy what they do. The man who abused me is a sad, pathetic lonely character and he needs help.?

These articles were originally published in MSN NEWS

Other stories in this series:

Sex abuse: the survivor

The lasting nightmare of child abuse. Peter Saunders tells how the scars last for a lifetime.

Sex abuse: the probation officer

How to shatter the sex offending cycle. Donald Finlater helps sex offenders survive back in the community.

Sex abuse: the police

Inside Scotland Yard?s Paedophilia Unit. We?re dealing with very serious crimes warns DCI Reynolds.

Sex abuse: the mother

Whirlwind romance led to horror of child abuse. He was everything my first husband wasn?t.

Sex abuse: the legal expert

The law is failing the victims of child abuse. Barbara Joel-Essam is trying to change the culture around sex offence.

Sex abuse: the investigator

The man who catches child abusers. Abusing children is the main focus of some people?s lives.

Sex abuse: the expert

?You can buy a child for a packet of crisps?. Grim warning from Britain?s top sex crime consultant.

Sex abuse: the abuser

Abuser who claims six-year-old led him on. Convicted paedophile hasn?t yet taken full responsibility for his crimes.

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